As North Americans endure cracking polar vortexes, many of us yearn to escape to somewhere toasty and tropical, far from our frostbitten homeland. Cancun maybe, the Caribbean or Hawaii. Anywhere, you would think, but New York City, where winter storms often wreak more havoc than an outrageous Trump tweet.
Which, of course, is exactly why the Big Apple can make for an unexpectedly awesome and surprisingly affordable mid-winter getaway destination, as I discovered on a recent long weekend in Manhattan. From airfare and hotel deals to discounts on tourist attractions, Broadway shows and top restaurants, winter just might be the best time of year to do New York your way.
Landing at Newark International amid the Donald’s partial federal government shutdown, I expected airport hassles and delays, but instead breezed onto the Air Train and arrived at mid-town Manhattan’s Penn Station within half an hour. Luckily, I’d also had just missed New York City’s latest thermometer plunge and emerged to sunny skies and balmy temperatures.
Where to Stay in Manhattan
My base was the Moxy Times Square, a trendy newcomer to the Manhattan discount hotel scene located on the corner of 7th Avenue and 36th Street, just a few blocks south of its namesake’s neon circus. With the cheeky tagline “Get a room”, this rapidly expanding boutique sub-brand of Marriott is squarely aimed at millennial travellers who prefer to serve themselves at check-in and don’t mind “playful” design elements and “cozy” (read: tiny) bedrooms in exchange for paying far less than Manhattan’s usual exorbitant hotel room rates.
Ranging from king suites to quad bunk “crashpads”, the Moxy’s guest rooms come in multiple configurations, include pegs and foldable chairs and tables instead of closets and traditional hotel furniture, and, in many cases, have sinks placed outside the bathroom to save space. My space reminded me more of a cruise ship’s berth than a hotel room. But hey, you don’t come to Manhattan to hang out in your room, right?
Featuring a casual mezzanine level restaurant/lounge and NYC’s largest indoor/outdoor all-season hotel rooftop lounge and bar scene, the Moxy Times Square is definitely a place to be and be seen. And the location is perfect — right in the middle of Manhattan. My only complaint was the noise blasting from the aforementioned venues well into the wee hours. The hotel’s unfathomable lack of window soundproofing makes bringing industrial strength earplugs mandatory if you want to get anything close to a good night’s sleep. My guess is the designers took NYC’s reputation as “the city that never sleeps” literally when deciding what cost corners to cut.
Explore New York City
With more sites and attractions than any city in North America — or perhaps in the world —, New York can be an overwhelming place to be a tourist, especially if you only have a few days to cram everything in. It’s wise, then, to plan ahead, as I did by obtaining New York CityPASS tickets in advance. Created to offer the best attractions hand-picked and wrapped up in an easy-to-use package, CityPASS tickets definitely save you money and time. And because they are valid for nine consecutive days starting from the first day of use, there’s no need to feel rushed — you can explore the city that never sleeps at your own pace.
For one discounted price of $126, I enjoyed “skip the lineup” access to some of Manhattan first-timer must-sees – icons like the Empire State Building, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the 9/11 Memorial & Museum. Visitors can also use CityPASS to board a sightseeing ferry that stops at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Another must-visit museum — although not part of CityPASS — is the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Packed with Picassos, van Goghs, Dalis, Warhols, and many more famous masterpieces, it is in the final stages of a major multi-year upgrade.
Another great way to explore New York is on foot, with a knowledgeable guide. I found one through Tours by Locals, a service that connects travelers with local tour guides, worldwide, who offer customizable private tours. A born-and-bred New Yorker, Geovanni met us at the Moxy, then led me on a fascinating bespoke four-hour walking tour of Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn.
We first stopped to admire the austerely beautiful 911 Memorial, then took in the world’s most expensive train station, the spectacular $4-billion phoenix -shaped Oculus transit hub at the rebuilt World Trade Center site, before hopping the subway to Brooklyn. Next stop was DUMBO, An acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, this once derelict warehouse district boasting unsurpassed views of the Lower Manhattan skyline has been recently transformed into a hotbed of dining, recreation, arts, and shopping.
Returning to Lower Manhattan, we explored another up-and-coming district called NoLIta (for North of Little Italy). Packed with funky cafés, stylish independent emerging designer boutiques, and an increasingly trendy restaurant and bar scene, NoLIta is Lower Manhattan’s new kid on the block, where you can discover tomorrow’s top artists, restaurateurs, and designers. It’s also a great place for people watching, even in the dead of winter, as I noted when Benicio del Torro strolled past me at a crosswalk.
Nightlife in the Big Apple
Another great reason to visit Manhattan in winter is NYC Broadway Week, which offers 2-for-1 tix to popular stage shows like Come From Away, The Ferryman, Choir Boy, King Kong, and many more. It’s an accessible way for visitors on a budget to be able to catch some of the town’s most talked about productions. I saw a mesmerizing production of STOMP at the East Village’s Orpheum Theatre. Utilizing just the body and ordinary objects, this hugely popular and long-running show incorporates non-stop rhythms, acrobatics, and pantomime to deliver a high-octane physical theater performance.
Similarly, New York’s Restaurant Week is also a mid-winter hit, offering an A-Z of cuisines across multiple locations. Menus are categorized by lunch, dinner, and brunch options, with prices ranging from $26 to $42 per person. In other words, some great deals on dining out in a town that can otherwise be very expensive.
New York Travel Tip
UberPool is an incredibly convenient and insanely inexpensive way to get around Manhattan, day and night. Simply open the Uber app on your smartphone, punch in your desired destination, and look for the UberPool ride option at the bottom of your screen. It matches you with riders heading in the same direction, so you can share the ride and cost. I took it all over town, even during rush hour, and never paid more than $10 per ride. Some rides were even cheaper than riding the subway, and infinitely more comfortable, riding in late model SUVs rather than grinding it out below ground.
For more ideas on how to plan the perfect mid-winter Manhattan getaway, visit NYCGO.